It is not completely uncommon for young people diagnosed with “Type I Diabetes” (called “Juvenile Diabetes” in my era) to be able to get away with a lot of ‘cheating’ for the first ten years or so. During this time the pancreas is still producing some little drips of insulin which help the body with blood sugar control. As time goes on though, diabetes gets harder and harder to keep on a leash.
For me, it was in college that my disease got more difficult. Frequent blood sugar highs and lows affected me more, leaving me more tired and frustrated than before. When I was twenty, a junior in college, my classes were acutely demanding – I was trying to get through a bio/med degree while also starting a grueling computer science curriculum. It was an exhausting academic schedule, compounded by the general anxiety of that very insecure age, oh and add to that, the fatigue of a chronic illness which for the first time was making me feel like crap if I didn’t pay attention to it. So, what did I do? Yes, of course, I started seeing a therapist! Did I tell her how I spent my afternoons? No.
Every afternoon I was EATING … eating TOO MUCH … binging … knowing that my blood sugar would sky rocket. Brownies, cookies, cakes, muffins. Pizza, sandwiches, bagels, scones. Potato salad, egg salad, pasta salad, toast. Whatever struck my fancy that day. Everything tasted absolutely WONDERFUL! I knew that I shouldn’t. I knew that my blood sugar levels were terrible (I had the awful symptoms), and I knew that any doctor would say I was risking serious medical complications. But, I, could, not, stop.
I also knew that after binging I’d fall asleep from blood sugar exhaustion, because it happened each afternoon. Several hours of deep, toxic sleep. When I woke up, I’d drink some black tea, and get back to work, memorizing neurotransmitters or writing computer code.
This was the era when anorexia and bulimia were for the first time being discussed in public, being written about in magazines. Fellow classmates in college and even celebrities were stricken. I figured I had a diabetes version of bulimia, and told NO ONE. I was ashamed. I felt weak, wasteful, and embarrassed. If only I tried harder tomorrow I could stop the over eating. I just had a moral shortcoming to get past.
Why did no one notice? Didn’t I gain thirty pounds? No. With insulin dependent diabetes like mine, the body can only absorb the calories if there’s enough insulin to process the food, and since I was not on enough insulin for these binges, the extra calories were literally being pissed of out my body, giving my kidneys a major stress test. AND, I KNEW ALL THIS. I knew that my high blood sugars could lead to kidney failure, or blindness, or foot amputations, or heart attack. There’s an endless list of possible outcomes. I knew all of this and remained in painful silence. For years.
TO BE CONTINUED …
(Yeah, I know, I apologize. There is SO much scary, awful stuff going on in the world right now. And I’m writing about personal difficulties which are puny compared to the news from any day this year. And yet, I’m adding to the pile. Soon I’ll write about how this eventually got figured out — there IS a point to this story — just can’t get to it tonight : )